The Telegraph
Wednesday , February 12 , 2014
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Rajdhani fire sparks panic

The generator-cum-luggage coach of the Rajdhani Express caught fire at Howrah station on Tuesday afternoon, prompting panicky passengers to jump off the train.

The train was on platform 9 and was to leave in three minutes when a pantry car attendant alerted passengers about the fire and warned that there could be an explosion.

The luggage coach was packed with cartons of inflammable articles, such as garments and cigarettes.

Witnesses said passengers — some carrying infants in their arms, others tugging trolley bags — jumped off the train and ran to safety.

No untoward incident occurred and three tenders put out the fire in 30 minutes. A new generator car was attached to the train, which left Howrah at 7pm, around two hours behind schedule. The scheduled departure was at 4.55pm.

Passengers alleged that lack of announcement by the railway authorities led to panic and harassment. Several called up family members, some of whom even rushed to the station.

“I was in my seat when the lights in the coach went off. I saw some people on the platform pointing at our train and spotted smoke through the windows. Some pantry car employees were running around. I went to the door and asked them what happened. One of them said there was a fire and it could lead to an explosion,” said Subhendu Chakraborty, a passenger of coach B12, which was two boggies from the luggage van.

Chakraborty, a pharmacist who was going to Delhi to attend a conference, spread the news to other passengers, all of whom panicked and rushed out of the coach.

Neha Sonthalia, a doctor and a resident of Belur, injured her ankle while getting off the train in a hurry with her 3-year-old son in her arms.

“There was no announcement. All that the railways were announcing was that a local had been delayed. We sat on the platform for over half an hour and returned to our coach only after my husband went to the affected coach and saw that the fire had been doused,” Neha recounted.

Railway officials said a short-circuit might have led to the fire. Fire officials, however, suspect that cigarette cartons caught fire after someone threw a burning cigarette butt.

The part of the coach where the generator was located was unaffected, said officials.

Divisional railway manager, Howrah, Anirban Dutta said the licence of the private operator to whom the luggage van had been leased out has been cancelled.